Scientists have discovered new strains of polar bear in the fjords of East Greenland

Scientists have discovered new strains of polar bear in the fjords of East Greenland

A polar bear on an iceberg off the coast of southeast Greenland.Christine Leader Statue / University of Washington

Spread across the Arctic, nineteen genetically distinct subgroups of polar bears have been assigned to date, each with its own more or less specific habitat: from Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, across the Siberian coast around the Arctic, to Canada and western Greenland. . Polar bears on the sparsely populated (even by Arctic standards) east coast of Greenland are seen as one collective group. Based on genome research, RNA samples and field observations, the researchers now conclude that bears in eastern Greenland form two separate groups. The animals on the southeast coast live very isolated and have little contact with their neighboring bears above the 64th parallel.

The researchers offer two explanations for the isolation of the new subgroup: hunting and geography. On both sides of the habitat, which extends for about 600 km from the coast of the fjord, there are Inuit settlements where hunting of polar bears is allowed. The indigenous residents of Greenland are allowed to shoot a limited number of polar bears each year for their own use.

the winds of your writing

Due to the peculiarities of the landscape, bears remain in place. To the north and south of the habitat are mountains more than 2000 m high; On the north side, there are also so-called katabatic winds, which are gusts of ice cover that can increase in speed to 300 kilometers per hour due to the difference in temperature and gravity.

The strong north-south sea current off the coast is also a geographical limitation. Because of this current, polar bears rarely venture out of fjords. Animals that unexpectedly end up in the sea, float south on the current. After an average of 200 kilometers, they climb ashore again, after which they walk back to their lands.

Researchers say the habitat in southeastern Greenland is similar to predictions for the entire Arctic by 2100. Small sea ice forms in fjords during the winter, and ice that forms earlier melts. On the other hand, polar bears hunt from sea ice, but here they adapt their behavior and hunt from glaciers that open into sea water.

Polar biologist and researcher Martin Lunin describes the link to climate change as “little needed.” “But it’s cool how they showed these polar bears make up their 20th subgroup.”

opportunistic fishermen

Loonen, who is affiliated with the University of Groningen’s Arctic Center and not involved in the polar bear study himself, is responding by phone from Ny-Ålesund in Spitsbergen, where he has conducted research for 33 years. It doesn’t surprise him that bears are able to survive in an area with little sea ice. Polar bears are opportunistic hunters. Here we have a polar bear that just fed the goose eggs we’re looking for.

Lunin makes another important point in polar bear behavioral research, not only here, but in all studies: the shape of their heads and necks prevents male bears from wearing a collar. This means that the search using the GPS transmitter is performed on females only. The male polar bear has a kind of torpedo shape, with no visible neck, which could cause a collar with a GPS tracker to slip off its head. What we know about polar bears, we usually know about females.

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